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Harnessing the Power of Technology to Build a Fairer, Healthier World

Healthcare is the cornerstone of social and economic development, and of global health security. Building strong health systems is not only an investment in healthier populations, but also an investment in safer and more stable societies. Intrinsic to laying the groundwork for those resilient health systems is harnessing the power of digital technologies, the adoption of which has certainly been accelerated by the COVID-19 pandemic.

Looking to the power of technology in a pandemic

In  seeking  a  sustainable  solution  to  healthcare,  countries  have  narrowed  their  focus  toward  ensuring  accessibility  to  its  citizens,  both  from  a  cost  perspective,  as  well  as  a  geography   standpoint,  while  shifting  from  treatment  of  disease to prevention.

This kick-started  a  digitalization  of  the  healthcare  industry,  with  digital  technologies  expected  to  play  an  increasingly  important  role  to  meet  the  rising  healthcare  demand for years to come.

With the onset of COVID-19, the process of digitalization was accelerated as countries across the region went into various forms of lockdown, restricting patient mobility while giving rise  to an  aversion  to  hospitals  mong  individuals  who feared catching the virus while in the hospital. At the same time, the influx of patients and shortage of healthcare professionals, led to a severe strain on manpower.

To cope, institutions were forced to look to virtual care solutions such as telemedicine, artificial intelligence-aided image  analysis  and  remote  patient  monitoring  to  deliver  routine  care  while  assisting  healthcare  professionals  in  mitigating the impact of the pandemic.

Telemedicine allowing access to healthcare for all

A key piece of technology that emerged during the pandemic and looks set to stay is the use of telemedicine. Virtual care solutions such as Tele-ICU and remote monitoring have been crucial in helping  doctors  to  consult  or  monitor  patients  from a distance.

Catering to the rising demand for digital health, both local and  foreign  companies  have  stepped  up  to  offer  solutions  such  as  teleconsultation  application,  clinical  decision-support systems, and online appointment-booking systems.  In Vietnam,  a  local  start-up,  VieVie  Healthcare,  enabled  patients  to  book  appointments  and  post  their  concerns or questions in-app, which will be addressed by qualified doctors.

At  the  height  of  the  pandemic,  Vietnam’s  Ministry  of  Health  were  quick  to  launch  a  Telemedicine  Centre  in  Hanoi  to  control  COVID-19  outbreaks  and  other  future  epidemics. The centre implemented digital health solutions, including a real-time clinical data transmission software, that integrates  with  medical  devices  such  as  patient  monitors  and ventilators from GE Healthcare, to reduce direct patient contact  and  all  in  all,  decrease  the  risk  of  infection  for  medical staff.

Despite requiring a hefty investment, digital solutions that lay the groundwork for concepts such as telemedicine, are key to Southeast Asia, a region with widespread urban and rural populations. Due to a shortage of skilled workforce located in rural areas, patients regularly travel to a hospital instead of going to an outpatient clinic. This adds to waste within the healthcare system and it’s common to see long queues at hospitals in countries such as Vietnam with such diverse  environments.  Digitally  connected  solutions  like  telemedicine and healthcare delivery can help spread access to medical specialists even beyond the pandemic, enabling patients to receive the care they need without traveling long distances.

A healthier world with more precise and efficient care

Precision  healthcare  with  treatments  targeted  to  an  individual’s  biological,  medical,  behavioural  and  environmental  information,  are  set  to  play  a  key  tool  as  healthcare providers look to shift away from the traditional approach of treatment and management to one focused on early detection and prevention.  Hospitals produce up to 50 petabytes of data a year with over  97  percent  of  data  un-analysed  or  unused.  Meanwhile, medical errors are estimated to be the third  leading cause of death in the US, with a study on Vietnamese hospitals revealing an error rate of 39.1 percent. The ability to deliver efficient, precise care will therefore not only prevent unnecessary deaths, but in the long run contribute to better quality of life for individuals.  By effectively using the  data  gathered,  healthcare  providers  and  institutions  will  be  able  to  determine  an  individual’s  ris  of  developing  life-threatening  conditions  such  as  heart  disease  and  cancer,  allowing  for  early  intervention  and  prevention.  This will reduce  the  need  for  costly  long-term  treatments  nd  medication,  ultimately  easing the economic burden.

Digitalization is here to stay

Proving to be an enormous success without compromising quality care for patients, many of these changes powered by digital connectivity will likely continue, and new tools are being introduced to bring clinicians even more efficiency at the point of care. Amid the pandemic, the world witnessed the  “proof  of  concept”  for  how  technology  can  positively  impact the healthcare industry, at scale. However, charting the  path  towards  more  precise  care  involves  healthcare  providers  to  not  only  implement  digital  transformation  efforts, but also adopt a more proactive approach to address challenges.

Healthcare providers must take on a more preventive approach as  opposed  to  a  treatment  and  management  approach, to prepare for the future of care amid economic, regulatory, and social uncertainties. They must understand how developing virtual care, and harnessing technology can optimise processes and health systems for greater efficiency, financial viability and enhanced patient experience.

One  of  the  top  prevailing  challenges  in  healthcare  is  waste, which adds to the cost of care. A research by Deloitte revealed that  almost  40  percent  of  work  in  hospitals  can  be  automated.  Manual  paperwork  spent  going  through  patient  information  or  correlating  scans  to  a  patient’s  medical records and history can be easily solved through automation. With digitalization of processes and workflow, healthcare providers will gain productivity, empowering them to redirect efforts and drive better outcomes for their patients by lowering the cost of care.  With an estimated total healthcare spending of about US$740 billion expected in ASEAN by 2025 and the threat of Disease  X  facing  nations,  digital  technology  is  set to  continue  to  play  a  critical  role  in  ensuring  that  healthcare  remains  accessible  and  affordable.  This is not  to  replace  the  human  touch,  but  to  improve  patient  care,  outcomes  and better manage the administrative process. This would allow for greater accessibility, and ultimately a better quality of life for the region in the new era.  [APBN]


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About the Author

Son Pham, Country Manager, GE Healthcare Vietnam, CEO, GE Vietnam.

Son is the Country Manager for GE Healthcare Vietnam and the CEO of GE Vietnam. He is based in Hanoi.

Son joined GE Vietnam in 2010 as Market Development Manager and held the position for 5 years, supporting and driving business growth initiatives in Vietnam. He took on the role of CEO for GE Vietnam in 2015. In 2018, Son was appointed as the Country Manager for GE Healthcare Vietnam, in addition to his current responsibilities in GE Vietnam. Prior to GE, Son spent over 10 years spearheading sales and marketing in several foreign companies for various industries, such as oil & gas, power, pulp & paper, fertilizer and chemical industries. Son also worked at the Center for Research and Development of High Technology, Hanoi University of Technology in various roles as System Engineer and DCS trainer after graduation from university. Son holds a bachelor’s degree in Industrial Automation and a Masters’ degree in Science from Hanoi University of Technology, Vietnam.